Fellow Friday: Learning the Big Lessons

Every summer, the Frank Karel Fellowship places undergraduate students who are first-generation college students and/or represent diverse racial, ethnic and social backgrounds in an eight-week summer internship within the communications team of a carefully selected nonprofit organization. 

The Fellowship honors and advances the legacy of Frank Karel, who established, led and nurtured the field of strategic communications in philanthropy during his 30 years as chief communications officer for the Robert Wood Johnson and Rockefeller Foundations.

Karel believed that racial and ethnic minorities should be better represented in the communications field and that we should be proactive in recruiting and nurturing broader participation and leadership in the advocacy and communications fields.

Throughout their fellowship, the nonprofit offers students guidance, career advice, substantive work assignments, networking and applied experience. This year’s nonprofit hosts included Special Olympics, the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids and DC Vote.  

In this new series, we hear from the latest cohort of students on their experience as Karel Fellows and what they learned.  This week we are sharing Lauren Shiplett’s post on the lessons she learned during her summer fellowship at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.


My Karel Experience: Lessons LearnedI don’t know everything.

Looking back at my grade school years, I can’t pinpoint my learning to a specific time frame. I don’t know the exact day I learned to write an essay or divide the long way, and I can’t definitively tell you what I learned from year to year. But, thanks to a combination of maturity, age, and experience, I can look back at the lessons I was presented with this summer and recognize that I learned them over the last few months as a Karel fellow. These lessons hopefully reveal not only how much I learned during the fellowship, but how I ultimately changed and grew as a communicator, student, and advocate.

1. Put the politics aside

Long story short – my host organization is fiscally liberal, I am not. But this summer, I learned that part of being a better communicator is at least trying to understand others’ ideas, even if I didn’t think I could. After seeing how adamant some coworkers were about their beliefs (and often seeing the same from the other side), I recognize how polarization and politics have limited cooperation and collaboration, and now always want to be cognizant of how I approach working with those I don’t agree with.

2. My work matters

I sometimes felt bogged down in the nuances, e-mails, and drafts of everyday work, especially as an intern jumping in mid-stream. The turning point was after I had taken notes on a Senate hearing for the highway trust fund and dispersed them to analysts at my organization; the trust fund soon came to the forefront of the political realm, and I realized my notes could lead to an analyst influencing policy or a lawmaker. I learned to take a step back and truly appreciate my role, not only in my workplace, but also as a mechanism of social change. 

3. Being better means thinking bigger 

I learned that being a better communicator means always thinking of the bigger picture. I’ve learned to constantly ask myself two big questions: what I do, and why I do it. The fellowship not only taught me to think about my role within systems of social change, but to constantly remember my mission and why I’m there in the first place. This summer, I was there to learn and improve the lives of low-income Americans, regardless of political differences or monotonous workdays, and it was encouraging to hit the refresh button and remind myself of that from time to time.

Group - Silly4. I don’t know everything
If there’s one thing this experience has taught me, it’s that I have a long way to go and a lot to learn. I
know my passion is communication, but after hearing about the many opportunities and paths of the professionals who mentored me, I have no idea where I’ll go with it or what I’ll do next. Ultimately, the Karel fellowship led me to the doorstep of my future; whatever I do or wherever I go with communications, I’ve learned to always seek the public interest and never stop advocating for a better tomorrow.

I want to sincerely thank the Karel Advisory Board, the program administrators, the unforgettable fellows, my mentor, Caroline Anderson, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities for this life-changing experience. It’s because of these people, and the vibrant public interest communications community, I was able to learn these life-changing lessons, and can one day pass them on to others.


This post originally appeared on the Frank Karel Fellowship blog.

 The Karel Fellowship is made possible by the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Moriah Fund and public interest communications firms including Burness, Spitfire Strategies, Brodeur and Fenton.

Posted: November 6, 2015